Many people claim traveling alone can be an arduous task. Who do you dine with? Who do you talk to on those long train rides? Who watches your bags when nature calls? And if you get lost, who do you blame but yourself? Aside from this, there are many upsides to traveling alone which helps bridge your confidence, turning you from shy into a social butterfly as well as the little self-wins along the way which makes doing it solo all the more fun.
In my latest Eurotrip last year, I found myself with a few days of solo traveling. Although a little anxious at first, having relied so heavily on the company of many others throughout my trip, it took an adrenalin fueled event to get the heart fluctuating and ready to embark on a solo journey.
I had just waved my girlfriend Simone off and left myself all but 15 minutes to grab my bag from the locker storage at München Hauptbahnhof and venture onto the EuroStar train towards Liechtenstein. Somewhere between grabbing some bratwurst for the train ride and walking toward the locker area, I realized that Simone had taken the key to the locker with her… No time to waste.
I ran towards the locker office, rambled out some broken German until I could convince the man to open my locker. 9 minutes..
Then I had to prove that it was actually my bag. No tags. Stupid. Oh wait there was a tag there from my flight from New York, it read, ‘Josh Thompson’ (a friend I had traveled with). Shit, this doesn’t look good. 7 minutes..
What to do…I noticed my combination lock was still on the bag so I unlocked it. That convinced him, phew! Back to the office, passport out, filling in paper work, pay fine (25 euro – eh!). Get out. 2 minutes.
Side steps and a few scraped shoulders later – don’t people understand that these German trains are never late – and then I remembered this particular train was Swiss. Even more punctual! Luckily, I already knew the platform. The whistle was blowing just as I threw my bags in and the train departed.
And so it was my first win traveling solo. The heart was racing, the anxiety was over. I could do this.
One thing I should mention about the tardiness of Swiss trains, is you have to be Usain Bolt during the connections. Many Swiss people will daily make connections of trains 2 minutes apart – a far cry from the 30+ minute connections in Sydney – so you better know which platform you’re going to.
After a 4 hour journey, I got off the train at Buchs in Switzerland, just a few kilometers west of Liechtenstein, and searched for the bus to take me into Schaan where my hostel was (the only hostel in Liechtenstein). Once I found the bus stop I went to the ATM to withdraw some Swiss Francs – the true monopoly money. It’s the most colorful money I’ve every seen, and the Swiss seem to love it so much, the ATM only gave me 100’s! So after getting some change from the nearby store I got the bus, paying with a 5 Franc coin (really, a CHF5 coin!) into Schaan.
One would think from here it would be simple with only one hostel in the whole country (OK I know it’s a pretty small country but still). Thus began another venture, with a photo of the map at my side, as I had no internet connection, I began walking left and right, around in circles, following street signs, until I ended up in a field of crops and what appeared to be some kind of bike track. It was getting dark and I had to check-in in the next 10 minutes or no one would be waiting for me… So, thinking I had gone the wrong way, I ran through the crops, jumped over a small creek, rolled under a fence and found myself back on the main road.
Then, I just asked someone. First in German, then in English. She responded in English pointing about 50m north. Sure enough there it was, just north of the field that I had ran through. Although I had to ask for directions, I made it. Unscathed, well other than a small scrape from the fence. Again the solo traveler prevailed!
THE NEXT DAY I woke and hired a bike, challenging myself to ride through 3 whole countries in one day! One thing I love about Switzerland and Liechtenstein is the cities are built for bikes. There seems to be more signage for bikes then there does for cars. In fact, they even have signs and different routes for rollerbladers, and Nordic walkers.
In such a tiny country there are lots of open fields for farming, bike tracks and not much else. The mountains are pretty beautiful though and I did manage to snap a picture of the main castle, though I was too lazy to go to the top.
I then proceeded to complete my challenge by riding to Feldkirch, Austria, back through Liechtenstein then into Switzerland. There was a really beautiful river running between the latter two countries which I crossed back and forth several times. I don’t know what it is, but being an Australian I think we have a fascination at the ease of moving between countries in Europe.
In all honesty, had I been with a group of mates, we probably would have cycled for an hour, then spent the rest of the day at the pub. I love travelling alone as it forces me to be active.
I spent the whole day cycling, taking in the fresh air, seeing the changing gradients of the mountains, and generally just enjoying the different cultures of people I witnessed throughout the day. Liechtenstein is a country you really can see in a day.
Travelling alone is not for everyone, I don’t like it all the time, but it’s definitely worth trying. It makes you do things you’d never normally do.
I didn’t meet anyone on this particular trip, the hostel was fairly empty and the town quiet. But these days with technology, there’s always something to keep you interested. In the end, my iPod was my music to talk to and my iPad was my companion for lunch. And with that, Liechtenstein was just another country ticked off my list.